For the service broadcast on national TV, the Ursuline sisters in Trnava had decorated the altar space with a boat evoking St Paul's shipwreck in Malta. Photo: Nata Hovorkova/Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia

For the service broadcast on national TV, the Ursuline sisters in Trnava had decorated the altar space with a boat evoking St Paul's shipwreck in Malta. Photo: Nata Hovorkova/Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia

Rev. Eva Guldanova is a Lutheran minister, ecumenical theologian, and assistant to the general secretary of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia. This interview is part of a series dedicated to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

What stood out for you during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020?

Rev. Guldanova: Having had the privilege of translating the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity materials into Slovak, already in the fall 2019, was for me a bit like a spiritual retreat. I was praying the prayers and reflecting on the theme as I was striving to put it beautifully into the words of my mother tongue.

I was glad to participate at several events during the week itself. On Sunday, 19 January, the Ecumenical Council of Churches prepared the traditional national ecumenical service broadcast on national TV. It took place in the Ursuline sisters' Church of St Anna in Trnava. I especially enjoyed, during the festive lunch after the service, talking with the sisters about their spirituality as well as about how seriously they took the preparations for the service.

The recording of the ecumenical service was offered by the Slovak TV to the public to view again during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic when people were isolated in their homes. I believe it brought comfort and encouragement to many.

We also used the Week of Prayer materials during our weekly Taizé prayer, for the joint ecumenical service of Christian communities in Bratislava and the ecumenical service of theological faculties – joyful events that have already become traditional.

The 100th birth anniversary of a significant ecumenical leader, the founder of the Focolare movement Chiara Lubich also fell during the Week of Prayer. We remembered her in a lovely mass of gratitude.

My Lutheran home congregation in Bratislava – Dúbravka marked the invitation to prayers for Christian unity in two ways, both new for us. During the week itself we were daily sharing on Facebook the biblical reflections and prayers.

Every year, the Week of Prayer brochure invites readers to use the materials and pray for unity throughout the year. We took this invitation seriously this year and decided to dedicate each month one Bible study meeting to learning more about ecumenism. The plan was to welcome in our circle each month people from one community with an ecumenical vocation. We wanted for the members of the congregation to learn about the community, experience a little bit of its spirituality, hear faith testimonies of people connected to it and reflect on how we could either join their effort or join forces in service of the needy and in promoting Christian unity.

In February we welcomed sisters and brothers that organize weekly Taizé prayers, and in the following months we were planning to learn about and from the Focolare movement, the St. Egidio Community, and the local ecumenical platform. Unfortunately, in March the corona crisis hit and we had to postpone these encounters. We hope to resume them in the fall.

As one of the organizers, I was responsible for making contact with these communities. Each of the preparatory meetings was for me a beautiful moment of deep spiritual connection, sharing and mutual enrichment. I met with the sisters and brothers of these communities at their location and experienced beautiful hospitality and Christian love. The unity was growing in front of my eyes.

How has your relation to other Christian communities been changed by praying together?

Rev. Guldanova: Being together, singing, praying, working together creates a sense of community across confessional barriers. Receiving together God’s blessing helps us to experience the unity which was granted to us by God from the beginning of Christianity and also encourages us and strengthens us to work to manifest that unity, to make it ever more visible.

Through common prayer and encounters I have come to appreciate different Christian communities and their spiritualities. I learned a lot from each of them, grew deeper in my faith, was challenged and changed. I encountered beauty and often remained in silent awe in a profound humility and gratefulness. God is great and the ways to praise God are countless.

What are your plans and hopes for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2021?

Rev. Guldanova: I am excited that the materials for this year and the whole setup will be slightly different as it has been prepared by a monastic community. For me it is an invitation – an invitation which I would like to also extend to people around me – for deepening the spiritual aspect of ecumenism. I like the three elements in the ecumenical liturgy – seeking reconciliation and unity, God’s healing and wholeness within oneself, with Christian sisters and brothers, and with all people and the whole of creation. I hope to go deeper in all of these three dimensions of relationships in my life of faith.

I am already reflecting on spending some time of silence, prayer and contemplation in 2021 with some monastic community, ideally one that cherishes ecumenism, perhaps even in Grandchamp itself.

Read also:

Sisters share wisdom of life rooted in Christ for next week of prayer for unity (WCC news release, 10 June 2020)

Week of Prayer 2020 interview series: